Canadian Armed Forces Prepare for Consultations with Victims of Sexual Misconduct

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The facade of the Department of National Defense headquarters in Ottawa in 2013.Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press

The Canadian Armed Forces are preparing for the launch of much-anticipated consultations with thousands of current and former military and defense officials who have been the victims of inappropriate sexual behavior.

The consultation, known as the Restorative Engagement, will see around 5,000 members of the military and defense officials share their experiences and offer their thoughts on how similar incidents can be avoided in the future.

The process is a key part of the government’s $ 900 million settlement agreement in 2019 that resolved several overlapping class actions brought by victims of military sexual misconduct.

The Civilian-Managed Sexual Misconduct Response Center of the Ministry of Defense is leading the consultation in partnership with the military unit responsible for managing internal conflicts.

Denise Preston, executive director of the center, said a few more modest consultations took place in November as a sort of trial to ensure the proper support and services were in place before the process began in earnest in January.

“We’ll start engaging with more group members in January,” she told The Canadian Press. “So it has already started in a small and limited way. But it is expected to intensify in January after the holidays.

Restorative engagement consultations will be different from what is known as restorative justice, in which victims have the opportunity to confront those who have harmed them.

Instead, the consultations will see current and former members of the armed forces as well as civilian Defense Ministry employees affected by sexual misconduct sharing their experiences directly with special panels to prevent and better manage future incidents.

Participants will also have a number of ways to interact indirectly.

“This program holds enormous potential for healing and also for transforming the [military’s] culture, ”Ms. Preston said, adding that she would like this to become a regular event and not a one-off response to class actions.

Those wishing to participate were asked to indicate their interest when submitting their request for inclusion in the settlement agreement. Of the 19,147 people who submitted complaints, 4,935 applied to participate in the restoration pledge.

As the window to submit a claim officially closed on November 24, attorney Jonathan Ptak, who has represented some of the claimants in the six overlapping class actions, said it was not too late to submit a request.

“While the filing deadline was November 24, the settlement administrator has the discretion to extend this deadline by 60 days (until January 23, 2022) due to exceptional circumstances or due to the disability of a requester, “he said in an email.

“To date, many late complaints have been accepted for review. “

Regarding the purpose of the consultation, Mr Ptak said that it will “enable group members to share their experiences in a trauma-informed manner and will significantly contribute to the culture change within the Armed Forces. Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defense ”.

As the Sexual Misconduct Response Center leads the consultations, Ms Preston said he is partnering with the military’s Internal Conflict Unit because of the latter’s large national footprint and ability to support itself. connect with members of the armed forces across the country.

Participants will be able to share their experiences or statements in a number of ways, either directly with “cohorts” of military officials or indirectly through letters, video and audio recordings, Ms. Preston said.

“Or it might not even be one or the other,” she said. “They could just choose to share maybe a piece of poetry or a piece of art or something that they feel represents what they’ve been through and what the impacts have been.”

This flexibility has been identified as a top priority in the center’s previous consultations, Ms. Preston said.

As for the cohorts, they will consist of groups of about eight people who will work together for three to six months. Ms Preston said they will be trained in dealing with traumatized people as well as rules of confidentiality before meeting participants.

“We are deliberately bringing together a range of defense representatives at all ranks and levels of the organization,” she said. “Because it has to be if the culture is to change. “

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